Gabon's military rulers on Thursday appointed Raymond Ndong Sima, a prominent opponent to ousted president Ali Bongo Ondimba, as interim prime minister following the country's coup on August 30.
Ndong Sima, a 68-year-old Paris-educated economist, served as prime minister under Bongo from 2012 to 2014 before becoming a critic and competing against him in the 2016 and 2023 presidential campaigns.
His appointment, announced on state TV, was made in a decree by the new strongman, General Brice Oligui Nguema, who was sworn in as interim president on Monday.
In his inauguration speech, Oligui vowed to hold "free, transparent and credible elections" to restore civilian rule, but did not give a timeframe.
He also said he would soon announce a transitional government that drew on figures from across the political spectrum.
The country would also draw up a new constitution, drafted with representatives from all the key groups, which would be "more respectful of democracy and human rights" and submitted to a referendum, Oligui said.
- 'Broad consultations' -
Speaking to AFP shortly after his appointment was announced, Ndong Sima said he would submit a proposed government lineup to Oligui "in three or four days."
"They've given me a roadmap, and I will try to work in the direction that the military have determined... for restoring all our institutions, and especially everything concerning the framework for elections," he said by phone.
Ndong Sima said he wanted to take time for "broad consultations... so that people belonging to all political families are included" in the government.
Bongo, 64, took office in 2009 on the death of his father Omar, who ruled the central African state with an iron fist for more than 40 years, gaining a reputation as a kleptocrat.
He was re-elected by a wafer-thin margin in 2016, according to bitterly disputed official results, but two years later suffered a stroke that weakened his grip on power.
On August 30, soldiers led by Oligui, head of the elite Republican Guard, detained Bongo, his wife and son shortly after election overseers declared him victor in a presidential ballot four days earlier.
Ndong Sima had campaigned against Bongo but just before election day stood back to rally behind a joint opposition candidate, university academic Albert Ondo Ossa.
Ondo Ossa was credited with 30.77 percent of the vote against Bongo's 64.27 percent -- a result the opposition lashed as bogus.
Earlier this week, Ndong-Sima told AFP that it was necessary to "speak with the military" after the takeover.
He said that the transition back to civilian rule should not exceed two years and that he would be "interested" in taking part in the next presidential elections, which should not include candidates from the military.
- Bongo question -
Post-coup developments in Gabon are being anxiously followed in central Africa and beyond.
The oil-rich state joins Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Niger among African countries that have undergone military takeovers in the last three years.
But the bloodless coup ouster has been warmly welcomed by many Gabonese, although many say they also concerned by poverty and unemployment.
"Life is back on track, everything's going well," said Libreville market vendor Jim Poussiengui.
"People aren't nervous anymore. People feel free."
"We want to work," said Waren Long, adding that he wanted the government to "give us jobs and occupations."
One of the issues facing the future government is the fate of the Bongo family.
On Tuesday, Oligui said that Bongo, who had been placed under house arrest, was now "free to move around" and go abroad for medical checks "given his state of health."
Bongo's wife Sylvia, a French-Gabonese dual citizen, is being "arbitrarily" held and "detained in secret," according to lawyers who have filed a lawsuit on her behalf in Paris.
Bongo's son and close adviser Noureddin Bongo Valentin, his chief of staff Ian Ghislain Ngoulou as well as his deputy, two other presidential advisers and the two top officials in the formerly ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) have been arrested.
They are accused of treason, embezzlement, corruption and falsifying the president's signature, among other allegations.
TV images have shown them at their homes next to sacks and cases filled with banknotes.